The last survivors of the Irpin ruins have only one word to describe the Russians who retreated after one of the major battles of the war in Ukraine.
“Fascists!” said Bogdan, 58, as he walked the dog with a friend in the deserted city center that hadn’t been bombed for the first time in a month.
His friend nodded.
“Every 20 or 30 seconds we hear mortar shots. And like that all day, just destruction,” explains this bricklayer to AFP journalists who arrived in Irpin on Saturday.
Irpin was once an elegant residential town in the pine forests northwest of kyiv.
But it resisted the advance of Russian troops, until it became the closest place to the capital, about 20 kilometers away, which Kremlin forces reached in their invasion of Ukraine.
A damaged building in Irpin, this Friday. Photo: AFP
The city of tree -lined parks paid a heavy price for the battle and its streets scattered corpses. It returned to Ukrainian control after Russian forces quickly withdrew from outside the capital.
Now it looks more like Aleppo in Syria or Grozny in Chechnya, two cities devastated by Russian bombing.
Almost no building escaped unscathed of battle. The bombings left holes and other damage in modern pastel-colored apartment blocks.
The cloudy street was strangely empty, with a scene of cars whose windows were cracked by bullets and where only the barking of wild dogs could be heard.
“This is the apocalypse,” said a Ukrainian soldier riding across town.
irpin embodied all horror of the war in the early days of the aggression launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine, in his words.
Images of a family destroyed by a shell while trying to flee and of thousands of people taking refuge under a destroyed bridge have traveled the world.
In the last three weeks, it has not been accessible to the press, after the death of an American journalist, because Ukrainian authorities have ensured that it is extremely dangerous.
Hiding in the basement
Now, near a sign in the city center that says “I love Irpin” with a red heart, some residents who remained tell how they survived more than a month of relentless bombing.
“We hid in the basement. They fired Grad rockets, howitzers and armored shells,” said Bogdan, who did not want to reveal his last name.
“My husband and I went through mortar fire twice. But we’re okay, alive,” he adds.
Burned trucks on a street in Irpin, after intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops. Photo: AFP
Wandering down a street cut off by burning cement blocks, Viktor Kucheruk asked for a cigarette.
“As soon as we heard a gunshot, we immediately ran to our shelters,” the 51-year-old explained.
“The lamps fell from the explosions. We sat in a corner of the house during the bombing, in the part where the walls were thickest,” he said.
A new housing project with a large sign saying “Irpin, Ciudad Rica” had traces of the bombing and two of the apartments were completely destroyed.
Abandoned skateboards are covered in debris on the men’s playgrounds.
Rescuers are still trying to recover the corpses and put them in body bags, before taking them to the damaged bridge that connects the city to kyiv.
The bridge itself was filled with dozens of burnt cars with gun marks, which rescuers were trying to remove from the scene.
Irpin, a city destroyed by the war in Ukraine. Photo: AFP
In recent days, Ukrainian forces have “liberated” several Russian -occupied towns and villages near the capital, after Russia announced it would reduce its offensive in kyiv.
Russia’s departure from this area seems faster. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow was mobilizing its troops for an attack on the east and south of the country.
AFP journalists counted at least 13 Russian armored vehicles destroyed around the town of Dmytrivka, five kilometers southwest of Irpin.
They also found at least three bodies of Russian soldiers in a convoy of eight destroyed tanks and armored personnel carriers.
In Irpin, where authorities say at least 200 civilians have been killed, the inhabitants qualify for Ukraine’s victory in this battle.
“We got Irpin back, we got a lot of things back, but the war didn’t end,” Bogdan said.